Ringo Deathstarr have always been much more than a shoegaze act.
Sure, the band know their way around a reverb pedal but there's a lot more going on in their songwriting than meets the eye. New album 'Mauve' is a case in point: the love of volume might come from My Bloody Valentine, but the moments of clarifty, the crystalline beauty owe as much to Billy Corgan as they do to Ride.
In fact, Ringo Deathstarr recently completed a support slot with Smashing Pumpkins. Evidently, watching the legendary group night after night has rubbed off on their material, with osmosis helping to push their songwriting to the next level.
With that in mind, we put Ringo Deathstarr guitarist Elliott Frazier in touch with Smashing Pumpkins' Jeff Shroeder to talk shop.
- - -
E: What’s it like to rehearse for a job? Does it take away the feeling of creating art?
J: It’s a weird thing and it’s actually taken a while for me to accept that I pay all my bills and make a living playing music because it’s not something I ever planned on really ever happening in my life so it is kind of strange. Once you start playing, and you play everyday, and when we play with Pumpkins, we process a lot and play a lot so we’re talking 5 days a week 4-5 hours a day. I hate to say that you can become jaded but you have to get to a place where you can really appreciate it. That you get to support music, play guitar and be with your friends, it really does beat a lot of other jobs so you can’t really complain. You just have to stay focused and remember that there’s a lot at stake, especially with the stuff we’re taking out on this tour, there’s a lot of production, it’s a visual/lights show. There’s still a lot of fun, we have a lot of fun.
E: Yeah, because I’m a really big fan of Black Flag and No Recourse. They played clubs but I read they’d practice like 8 hours a day. So it’s weird that in this day and age a lot of bands don’t really practice.
J: Well, I think with a lot of electronic music and people recording on pro-tools, they write songs create the band in that way rather than renting a room. You hear a lot of bands.. when you hear the music and go see them live, they’re like two different things because they can’t really pull off what live what they do on record. Because when you think about the great bands, whether it’s Echo and the Bunnymen or even Led Zepellin to the Cure to newer bands, they had the sound and the sound was 3 4 or 5 people playing together and you get less and less of that because everything is so manipulated in the computer so I think its actually a sad thing that bands actually don’t play that much anymore.
E: Me too, man.
J: Well from hearing your music and seeing you play live, it’s like a different thing which is why I’m really excited to hear the new record which I think sounds more like a band. Was that something you guys were consciously going for when you went in to make the new record?
E: Yeah, well after we did that tour with you guys we saw you just destroying everything! It was kinda like a wake-up call you know? Like ‘eh, lets do that’ lets record playing together. I mean, 'Colour Trip' was done it was like a studio record, a bond. For inspiration, I was reading about Nine Inch Nails production techniques and stuff you know which is cool but you know, it was hard for us to pull off live after that tour with you guys it kinda changed out direction, and made us want to do that.
J: I was really shocked and impressed that you were able to do the record so quickly. You were like ‘We’re done!’ and I was like ‘wooaah’. It was pretty quick but it’s awesome though.
E: Thanks man, I mean we hope to remind people about actually playing because it is kinda weird that today people don’t have drummers, y’know it’s just weird
J: I know I know I know! And it’s strange when you’re typical Pumpkins crowd changes from whatever area we’re in. I mean we just got back from Australia and there were a lot of younger people, particularly at the Spendour in the Grass festival which was really young, y’know, younger than your typical Pumpkins show. When we played the more heavier rock stuff, I mean the reaction was insane. I haven’t seen that kind of reaction in a long time because I don’t think there are many bands with that kind of visceral power. It was cool to see people reacting to that. And I think with you guys too, I mean you’re always game and you have this kind of power that I don’t think a lot of bands have anymore because everything is just played off the laptop. I mean there’s nothing wrong with that, I like a lot of that stuff too but it’s y’know. I like to feel like rock is always out there.
E: Sometimes it feels like it’s become uncool to be rocking out. People think that if you’re having too good of a time up there then you’re not cool!
J: Yeah, I know. I feel a lot like that too! I’ve been thinking about, as you guys are starting to get more popular…I see a lot of new generation shoegaze bands that are coming out and it’s interesting to see. So it’s interesting to see the first generation of bands like Ride or even The Verve after they did their one or two shoegaze records, they didn’t really know what to do next because the genre can be limiting in terms of what you can do song wise…you kinda get locked into certain tempos, keys and chord changes. With a lot of the bands, they kind of take the blues turn or the retro kind of thing. I know when I’ve been talking to you in the past, you don’t feel completely comfortable being totally bumped in the genre, which is perfectly understandable. In terms of what you see for yourself in the future, how od you see your band keeping certain elements of the sound but drifting away from that. Making that next step which early bands had trouble transitioning?
E: I dunno, I grew up playing straight up punk music also listening to Rage Against the Machine and Helmet so I’d like to keep that aspect prominent in our sound, y’know still kinda bash it out and also get better at playing our instruments - we’re not really that great at our instruments! For instance I’ve only learned to play guitar in a way that only works for Ringo Deathstarr because I was playing drums before. I could play Nirvana songs or Green Day songs but then when I started doing guitar as my main instrument I can only play for Ringo Deathstarr.
J: Yeah, but you know I think in a way that’s almost better there’s so many. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being a highly competent musician or anything like that, it’s really good, especially the more technique you have. It’s a great way to, a aspect of self-expression espically if you find your technique limiting with what you hear in your head, then fine you work on those things. I also think, to only be able to play like the way that you can play is ultimately more valuable in the big scheme of things. In my old band Lassie Foundation and Eric is very much the same way. His guitar playing, his style, his songwriting could only work in that context. Not in a derogatory sense but that’s all the he could play but he came up with this really weird unique stuff. And then when you really think about it, the guitar players like a really respect Will Sargeant from Echo and the Bunnymen, really simple but constantly sounds like himself. To me that’s possibly more valuable in the long run.
E: Well I just hope to come up with better chords and more interesting things with my left hand. I have no dexterity with my pinky it’s like I don’t even have it when I play. I just think, if I can get my hand more in shape, I can do stuff that’s more interesting. I use alternate tuning and all that. I could use more, notes and weirder – I just wanna get weirder basically, weirder, louder, faster. I don’t wanna mellow off on any of our records you know like bands start out heavy and then they kinda like get mellow. I don’t really wanna do that.
E: What’s it like playing with a planet behind you? Does it get distracting or …
J: Well sometimes yeah, we actually, in our monitors we all have video screens, and so there’s a camera back at front of house that’s filming basically what’s going on, onstage…we literally hadn’t seen all the videos until we started touring, we really just let Sean Evans do whatever he wanted. We literally didn’t see most of it until the first time we decided to play with the images. And then of course we made some changes here and there. So I was a little more obsessed with working with it at the beginning but now I’m I don’t even look at it because about half of the images are to a click, so they’re locked to a tempo and some of it’s not so it’s actually become really easy to play with it. The only thing that difficult is – it’s scary because we’re playing the whole new record from beginning to end, because once that hour starts there is no stopping. If the gear malfunctions or something, you can’t take that extra 30 seconds to fix anything or whatever so it’s just ‘go go go’, so that’s actually the most stressful part about it. It’s hard to get into the place of the tour that I can actually enjoy because I have to think about a lot. There’s the video stuff, then the guitar stuff and I’m playing some keyboards as well, so that’s a whole other disaster waiting to happen. But it’s fun you know, I’m convinced that if we didn’t have the visuals there’s no way they would tolerate us playing the whole new record. Because it would just be a thing of song, after song, after song, with the visual aspect I think people actually enjoy it. And the photos don’t actually do it justice…if you look at it from the audience perspective; it’s really impressive I have to say. It’s pretty crazy.
E: Have you seen Kanye West in the last year live?
J: I haven’t no, I’ve seen a couple of shows with him and Jay Z.
E: He had this crazy backdrop, I wasn’t close enough to see, but it looked like a giant 3-D sculpture. And then on some songs he had these sparks that linked across the stage and it was just raining down sparks. It was just him on stage by himself and two guys in the corner and turntables. It was crazy dude, like if I could ever have some crazy ass pyrotechnics, not explosions just sparks –
J: I’ve been trying to convince Billy to get lazers, but he doesn’t like the use of smoke on stage for singing reasons, which makes total sense and lazers don’t look good without smoke apparently so...
E: Maybe you could set off fireworks, just to see what happens.
J: …yeah…it just looks way to scary to me
E: Yeah, I dunno what Kanye had up there but as soon at they hit the ground, it was just crazy.
J: I’m sure it was expensive!
E: Oh yeah…it’s just crazy to see this one little guy on this massive stage and he’s up there commanding the whole presence and everything. That was pretty cool, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.
J: I was just gonna say a Kanye story – we actually played a festival with him in Singapore and we were on the same flight from LA to Singapore and it ws just a trip like ‘oh my God, holy shit, he’s just there’, like I just pass the toilet just so I could see him in his Louis Vuitton blanket.
E: I guess it makes him sleep better, I don’t know.
J: Well, he looked confortable!
- - -
Ringo Deathstarr's new album 'Mauve' is out now.
As an aside - during the interview Elliott Frazier made reference to Glasgow band Ursula Minor... check them out here: